Basterds fans should be alerted to a piece by San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle, who calls Basterds the only thing that happened in cinema in 2009. But for Oscar watchers, Scott Feinberg has posted a story that indicates a big push to get the Jews to vote for Basterds because it’s a modern day Purim story. There is a quite the detailed plot as to how this came to pass but the long and short of was that a Jewish person of some importance wrote the following in hopes of it getting published in the Huffington Post or the Malibu Times. In the end, the piece “did not end up being published anywhere but was provided to [Feinberg] by publicists working on the ‚ÄúBasterds‚Äù campaign.” I love you, Weinstein Co. but really? Here is how it opens:
This is the season of two great Jewish holidays in Malibu ‚Äî the Academy Awards and the Festival of Purim. Who knew that ‚ÄúInglourious Basterds,‚Äù a front-runner for top honors, is actually a classic retelling of the Purim tale? What do Nazi scalps have to do with the Purim carnival, with its rides and prizes, or children dressed as kings and queens delivering baskets of sweet-filled pastries called ‚Äúhammentashen‚Äù?
It all depends on your fantasy. If you are a persecuted and oppressed people, subject to discrimination and harsh treatment for millennia, it is easy to imagine a fantasy of bloody revenge against your oppressors. The story does not have to be true to be deeply satisfying to the psyche.
The story of Purim takes place in Persia over 2,500 years ago. A foolish king (there have been so many) gives his advisor, Haman, the right to annihilate all the Jews in his kingdom, just because they are a people with their own beliefs. From this point onwards, the story moves into fantasy and farce. Esther, a beautiful Jewish maiden, takes top honors in a beauty contest and becomes Queen of Persia. Her Uncle Mordecai, watching her from outside the palace gates, overhears a plot and saves the king‚Äôs life, only to be challenged by the evil Haman. In a plot spin worthy of Moliere and Tarantino, the tables are turned. Esther saves her people, Mordecai is given the highest honors, and Haman hangs on the gallows built for Mordecai. Let‚Äôs eat!
Being a half-Jew, I might be willing to buy this if Tarantino himself were a Jew and that anywhere at any time he had indicated that this was his intention all along. Somehow I feel like Basterds is a reflecting pool and people see into it whatever they want to see. Revenge fantasy? Why not. A tribute to propaganda movies? Sure. A retelling of the Apache Indians? No problem. But Home for Purim? Uh…
It is a great movie, there is no denying.¬† My Jewish grandmother, god rest her soul, would be horrified. All’s I’m saying.
But there’s more over there at Andthewinneris. There is a lot more:
The tale ends, however, on a darker note. In this age old revenge fantasy, once the Jews are saved, they wreak vengeance on their enemies. Not only are Haman‚Äôs ten sons hung from the gallows, but 75,000 Persians are killed in revenge. Of course, there is not a shred of evidence that this is true, but it‚Äôs a great fantasy for a people constantly forced to abandon their lands and wander in exile.
‚ÄúInglourious Basterds‚Äù is a midrash, or interpretation of this Jewish revenge story. Shoshana is our beautiful Queen Esther, and the Bear Jew clubbing his Nazi victims to death echoes the fantasy killing of 75,000 Persians so long ago. Neither story is true, but the fantasy satisfies a deep desire for the tables to be turned, the righteous to triumph, and the weak to become strong. ‚ÄúInglourious Basterds‚Äù continues the tradition in fine form. Fantasy rocks! Let‚Äôs eat!
And then the piece closes this way – this is Feinberg writing:
I should also mention two other articles about ‚ÄúBasterds‚Äù by prominent Jews, even though neither discuss the subject of Purim. Back on August 26, 2009, Rabbi Irwin Kula penned a piece for The Huffington Post entitled ‚Äú‚ÄòInglourious Basterds,‚Äô Vengeance And Redemption‚Äù in which he described the film as ‚Äúa fun, action-packed Jewish revenge fantasy.‚Äù He also wrote, ‚ÄúLawrence Bender and Harvey and Bob Weinstein deserve great credit for having the courage to back this extraordinary film. Yet, it takes a gentile to go where no Holocaust story has gone before. Personally, I would give Tarantino an honorary membership in the Jewish people (no circumcision required, as he‚Äôs been hacking, slicing and ruminating about this Jewish vengeance orgy for over a decade) for bringing consciousness of feelings and desires that many Jews could never bring up in mixed company to the screen.‚Äù More recently, on February 18, 2010, Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor who is now the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote his own piece on The Huffington Post entitled ‚Äú‚ÄòInglourious Basterds‚Äô Should Be Recognized with An Academy Award.‚Äù
In addition to reaching out to rabbis, the folks behind ‚ÄúBasterds‚Äù have also reached out to Holocaust survivors and their families. On Thursday, February 4, 2010, they took out a full-page ad (copied below) in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times announcing a special screening of the film that night at the Museum of Tolerance and thanking Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper ‚Äúfor their continuing support of the movie.‚Äù (Hier, a member of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, had agreed to moderate a post-screening panel; Cooper was among the panelists.) Pete Hammond of the Los Angeles Times later reported that ‚Äúthe screening drew many elderly Holocaust survivors and/or family members.‚Äù
I guess, to quote Jack Nicholson in Terms of Endearment, “everybody uses everything they have.”
So, for Avatar it’s the environment. For The Hurt Locker it’s the soldiers. For Inglourious Basterds it’s the Jews and the Holocaust. May the best publicist win.